Arthritis types

There are many different types of arthritis and while the severity, joints affected and the progression of arthritis varies enormously from one person to another, generally the symptoms include pain and stiffness of the joints.

The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • osteoarthritis;
  • rheumatoid arthritis; and
  • gout.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. In osteoarthritis, the whole joint (including the cartilage, bone, ligaments and muscles) is affected, causing pain and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis most commonly occurs in the hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips. It most often affects older adults — more than half of people aged 65 years have some joint symptoms, while symptoms are uncommon in people younger than 40 years. Other risk factors for osteoarthritis include being female, family history, obesity and previous joint injury or infection.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system starts to attack the joints. The synovial membrane, which encloses the joint, becomes inflamed and the joint becomes damaged over time.

Rheumatoid arthritis commonly occurs in the hands, feet, shoulders and knees, generally in a symmetrical pattern. It can also affect the elbows, hips and neck. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, swelling, tenderness and stiffness of the joints (which is often most severe in the mornings). Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect other parts of the body (such as the heart, eyes, skin and lungs) and cause generalised symptoms such as tiredness.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects women more than men and, while it can occur at any age, the peak onset is between 35 and 50 years.

Gout

Gout is caused by the formation of monosodium urate crystals in a joint. These deposits accumulate in the joints usually because the levels of uric acid in the blood are too high.

Gout is most commonly found in the joint at the base of the big toe, but can affect other joints such as the feet, ankles, knees, elbows, wrists and hands. It is often episodic, with the joint involved getting progressively painful, red and swollen for several days or weeks, before returning to normal.

Gout most commonly affects men between the ages of 40 and 60 years of age. Gout is rare in women before menopause. Risk factors for developing gout include taking certain medicines, having some types of cancer, excessive alcohol use, obesity and having a family history of gout.

Other forms of arthritis

There are also many other conditions having arthritis as a symptom. These include:

  • lupus (SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus), a chronic (ongoing) connective tissue disorder that typically affects young women;
  • ankylosing spondylitis, characterised by inflammatory arthritis of the spine and occasional arthritis in other large joints, plus problems with the eyes, skin and heart;
  • enteropathic arthritis — arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease;
  • infectious arthritis, caused by a bacterium, virus or fungus spreading to a joint through the bloodstream or by surgery or injury;
  • juvenile arthritis, which describes a number of different arthritic conditions in children;
  • polymyalgia rheumatica, a condition that causes pain in the shoulders, neck and hips, as well as stiffness after inactivity, especially at night;
  • pseudogout, where calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate (CPPD) crystals are deposited in the joints;
  • psoriatic arthritis, a form of arthritis in people with psoriasis;
  • reactive arthritis, a disorder that occurs one to 3 weeks after an infectious illness and may be accompanied by conjunctivitis, inflammation of the urinary tract and skin rashes; and
  • Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic disorder characterised by dryness of the eyes and mouth that can also be associated with symptoms including arthritis, muscle pains and skin rashes.
Last Reviewed: 19 August 2014
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References

1. Arthritis Australia. What is arthritis? (reviewed Jun 2013). http://www.arthritisaustralia.com.au/images/stories/documents/info_sheets/2013/WhatisArthritis.pdf (accessed Jun 2014).
2. Rheumatology guidelines (revised October 2010). In: eTG complete. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2014 Mar. http://online.tg.org.au/complete/ (accessed Jun 2014).
3. NHS Choices. Arthritis (updated 21 Feb 2014). http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Arthritis/Pages/Introduction.aspx (accessed Jun 2014).
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